They booted out their Italian colonialists, soldiered on through civil wars, coups and droughts, and survived the famines of the 1980s. It’s safe to say that the people of Ethiopia are resilient. There are 84 indigenous languages spoken in the nation and these tough-as-nails folk are also direct descendants of the first Homo sapiens.
While the country is landlocked, water babies can get their fix through spectacular waterfalls and hot springs. You’ll also find mountains and caves to explore. And what better country to visit a coffee plantation than here, the origin of the bean?
Compared to its African neighbours, this landlocked country has survived in relative peace, and has fiscally triumphed since independence from the Brits more than 40 years ago. Tourism, particularly to the spectacular Okavango Delta (the world’s largest inland delta), is something of a lifeline and maybe on the increase, given the runaway success of Alexandra McCall’s novels and BBC series, The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is set in Botswana.
As well as the delta and Kalahari desert areas, you’ll want to explore Botswana’s grasslands and savannas, where blue wildebeest, antelope and a variety of birds can be spied. Northern Botswana boasts a rare large population of the endangered African wild dog, and Chobe National Park has the world’s largest concentration of African elephants.
Fascinating hunter-gather ‘bushmen’ traditions still linger alongside the more modernised parts of the country such as Gaborone. All in all, this is a tip-top destination, even for newcomers to the continent.
Travellers may be deterred by Myanmar’s bad rep, the continued bickering over the military government’s renaming of colonial-era cities and the argument of protesting the regime by non-visitation. But really, you’re just denying the locals income and yourself an experience you won’t forget.
The Burmese are some of the friendliest people you can imagine (and often the funniest, given their propensity to consider humour high art) and they’re always willing to show you around town.
The faded grace of cities like Yangon (Rangoon) is matched by markets where everything is hawked with colourful banter. There are beautiful beaches to the south that remain untouched by the tragedy of Nargis, the cyclone that hit the south, and in Bagan more than 3000 temples and shrines sit on a treeless plain. If the idea of sailing through tropical water floats your boat (we’re not going to apologise so forget it) book a tour of the Mergui Archipelago in the country’s south. More than 800 islands can be found here, many of them isolated if you don’t count the gibbons who live there. You can sometimes sail for days and see no one else apart from the occasional fisherman in a dugout canoe.
Buddhism is the main way of life – golden Buddhas and monks in their red robes are everywhere. Buffalo and farmers wading through rice paddies are the plodding essence of the rural regions and it’s here that you’ll uncover a Myanmar very much at odds with the nation’s harsh international reputation.
Saddle up your steed and grab your rebenque (whip), because this is cowboy country and things can get a little wild.
Argentina is home to famed herdsmen known as gauchos. These men are symbols of national pride, equally feared and admired for their patriotism and transient lifestyles. In the late 1800s, their talent for herding cattle morphed into smashing balls with sticks and now Argentina is considered the most advanced polo-playing country in the world – players who are poached by European teams are known as “hired assassins”. Argentina offers many equestrian tours for riders of all skill levels.
But it’s not all about horse whispering; Argentinians also speak the language of lust and never more so than when performing their national dance, the tango. This sultry shimmy is said to improve virility and protect from heart disease, which is just as well, since the locals here consumer more red meat than the residents of any other country. So sink your teeth into a juicy steak then feel the blood rise as you dance the night away.
Lush greenery, pristine forests, the Bengal tiger and not a bad cricket team… Those are just a few of Bangladesh’s assets. It’s also the only country to have six official seasons – summer, rainy, autumn, cool, winter and spring – instead of four.
It’s a country that offers just as many reasons to visit as its more highly fancied neighbours like India and Myanmar. The historic heart of Old Dhaka is a sprawl of alleyways and markets that unravel at the waterfront of Sadar Ghat. From there, river cruises offer a more relaxed view of the city while stopping at historic monuments like Lalbagh Fort and the Baitul Muharram Mosque, one of the biggest in the world.
Find solace in the Buddhist villages of Kaptai Lake and the ruins of Bagerhat where fifteenth-century warrior saint Khan Jahan Ali ruled and lived. Sundarbans National Park contains the largest mangrove forest in the world and boat trips offer glimpses of exotic monkeys, birds, deer and perhaps even the elusive Bengal tiger.
Although not known as a beach destination, you should head to Cox’s Bazaar, where there’s a stretch of golden sand that’s 125 kilometres long. There’s been a bit of unauthorised development along the beach, so get there before this little piece of paradise is gone.
It’s not at the top of most travellers’ bucket lists, but the few who make the intrepid journey into this war-torn land return with extraordinary tales of amazing journeys and locals who both are surprised by and appreciative of foreign visitors.
Those who ignore the warnings from just about every foreign office in the world will no doubt land in Kabul. It’s in a rapid rebuilding phase, but there are still, surprisingly, parts of the city’s past – the Kabul Museum, the stately Babur’s Garden and the bird market, tucked away behind the Pul-e Khishti Mosque – that remain open. It goes without saying that travellers need to be take heed of security alerts and road closures.
The Bamiyan Valley, where Chinese Buddhist monks and travellers first arrived in the fifth century, is one of the most visited regions of Afghanistan. Of course, the two huge Buddhas that stood sentry at the site are gone, destroyed by the Taliban. More recently, the sixth-century statues have returned in the form of 3D illuminations onto the empty cliff. Many of the niches and grottos around the site still remain, and there are guided tours where you can see what remains of the frescoes that used to decorate them. The views from the top (where the large Buddha’s head used to reach) are spectacular.
The north of the country is vastly different. Accessed by crossing the Hindu Kush, this region is home to the magical city of Mazar-e Sharif, where it is claimed the tomb of Mohammed’s son-in-law was found, and is the starting point for treks along the remote Wakhan Corridor.
Europeans love to bag Belgium, insinuating that the country offers little but mayonnaise on fries. And while this is a brilliant food combo, the country has much more going for it than its ‘boring’ reputation suggests.
On the surface, Belgium is a country divided, both regionally and linguistically. Years of tense debate and power struggles between the Flemish and French communities have left the nation with a confused identity. But look a little closer and you’ll realise each city and village tells its own story with a unique narrative and voice.
The port city of Antwerp is the cultural hub of Belgium and home to the prestigious fashion museum MoMu. The city is also famous for its diamond trade and literary community. Bruges is a fairytale wonderland on water, and Brussels, despite an austere façade, has a raging cafe and bar scene. Dive in and discover Belgium’s depths.
It’s so close, yet in countless ways is so far away. Beyond ever-popular Bali, there’s a plethora of other experiences in this vast archipelago. Trek to discover wildlife, including tigers and orangutans, surviving deep in the jungle in Aceh and Northern Sumatra’s Gunung Leseur National Park. Underwater enthusiasts will find they can dive just about anywhere in the country, but there are pristine scuba spots in the Tongian and Komodo Islands. And while surfers flock to Uluwatu in Bali’s south, there are far more isolated waves to be had in places like East Java, with its world-class G-Land barrels, and the Mentawai Islands.
There are more than 18,000 islands to explore across what is the world’s largest archipelago, each with its own cultural twist and geographical wonder. Generally speaking, it’s a world of terraced rice paddies, cloud-fringed mountains, traditional artistry, coffee, richly decorated temples and cities packed to the rafters.
You’ll also discover traditional communities still enacting centuries-old rituals, like the ancient Pasola Festival on Sumba, where warriors on horseback wield spears in one of the bloodiest harvest festivals you’ll ever witness. It’s raw, it’s mesmerising, it’s wild, and there’s plenty more like it to be discovered throughout Indonesia.
Often thought of as the holy grail for travellers, nothing can prepare the eyes for the visual feast that is India. From the technicolour costumes of Rajasthan and Gujarat, to the larger-than-life glitz and glamour of Mumbai’s Bollywood and spirituality of Rishikesh on the Ganges, there’s an explosion of colour and culture around every corner.
Once you have caught your breath from it all, festivals abound, there are beaches on which to play, mountains to climb and colonial history at which to marvel. Its highlights are far too many to mention, but we’ll go out on a limb and say you can’t miss Chandni Chowk in Delhi, tiger spotting in Ranthambore National Park and the spectacular Amber Fort near Jaipur. And no matter how many photographs you’ve seen of it, your breath will be stolen by your first sight of the Taj Mahal.
Despite the affluence from the recent economic boom, the riches are contrasted by the slums, beggars and the high possibility that you will get Delhi belly at some point. But if you have a sense of adventure and an open mind, India is guaranteed to change your life.
Australians are avid international travellers but we often overlook our backyard. There may not as much bang for your buck as other countries, but knowing your own is priceless and taking off on a cross-country journey at least once should be compulsory!
Beyond bars and lattes in the brimming-with-culture cities, there are adventures to be had in all corners of the Great Southern Land. Other than superlatives (the world’s largest reef system, the oldest continuous culture, the largest concentration of rock art) and an obsession with oversized fruits, Australia brings to the table natural good looks and rugged travel experiences.
With a low population density outside of the cities and a high conservation bent, much of the wilderness has been left to be just that: wild. Deserts, mountains, island, coastline and outback… It’s all here in Oz for you to explore and experience in its isolated glory. Why would you want to go anywhere else?